A family member recently asked me how I find all of the music that I listen to. As a musician I want to keep up to date with what is going on. At the same time I there is a lot of older music to look for inspiration in. I feel like it is not only important what music one listens to, but also the context. Certain music might open up more after you have heard something else. It is like reading. You can often enjoy a book without getting all of the literary references in it, but you might enjoy it more, or at least enjoy it in a different way, if the things a writer is alluding to are at least somewhat understood. Music you might not like at one point in your life could suddenly open up and appear beautiful at a later date. So while I think it is somewhat important to remain current with trends, especially with people that are pushing the envelope, going down your own unique path, looking forwards and backwards, is going to lead to a more satisfying place. Plus in the past, due to technological limitations, people had to be creative in different ways. When one couldn’t easily fix or edit something, a musician had to be creative in the moment, which often leads to more innovative musicianship, even if there are plenty of fine players and performers now. At the end of the day all that matters is what you enjoy, but if you keep an open mind and seek new things, you can discover you will find all kinds of things to enjoy that you might not have thought possible.
I almost never listen to any kind of radio. This is by circumstance and design. At this point I have amassed a large collection of music, and because of this is makes it easier to find something I am in the mood for at any given time. Also, aside from satellite radio and streaming, which I have never really gotten into, most mainstream radio is either flat out horrible or limited in scope. Out of current AM/FM radio stations public radio is often the best. I’m not saying there aren’t radio stations out there that are good, Austin has several, but I find that very little of the time do I hear something good that I haven’t already heard before. Satellite radio is good, but I like to have more control over what I’m listening to. Until streaming can provide artists with a viable economic model, I have no desire to go down that road and become part of the problem, even if I know it is a losing battle. But more than anything with different forms of radio I, which I have found is typical for an introvert, want to control what I am listening to somewhat.
So how do I find a lot of the music that I listen to? I read a lot about music. I read blogs, music magazine websites, reviews, etc. Even when I was young, before the internet became a major player, I read tons of music magazines and books about music. I also try to find out what the musicians I like are influenced by. Even if I will never meet many of my musical heroes, I will try to read about what influenced them. Most of the time, but definitely not all, if I like an artist, what they like will be of at least marginal interest to me. Many things I might not have found on my own have opened up to me this way.
I also ask people who share similar interests if they can recommend anything good. Musicians that I respect have lead me to artists such as Ted Hawkins, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Boozoo Chavis, Doug Sahm, and many more. Friends that are into music have lead me on to even more artists. If I like something someone is listening to, I just ask, “Hey what else do you got?”
I also constantly surf different things where I can hear clips, whether that is YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, etc. If I read about an artist or someone tells me about one, I often seek out clips. But sometimes I just will randomly listen to clips off of a bunch of new albums, follow links, get lost down the internet rabbit hole. I often spend hours doing this. Music is not only my job, but my passion. I could get home from a show and spend a couple hours just surfing different formats, just waiting to hear something I like. It’s a form of relaxation for me, though sometimes it depresses me when I listen to a ton of new albums and can’t find even one that I like. I try to buy at least some of the records I get in a store, as I think it is important to support local music stores, but late night with a credit card on the internet can be dangerous! Often I will awake thinking, “What the fuck did I do?!!!” Why God created drinking and online purchasing power I will never know. It is a cruel joke of existence.
Sometimes I am ahead of the curve and sometimes I am behind it. Sometimes I will discover a band years before they become popular and sometimes I am really late to the game. It doesn’t really matter how you find what you like. It doesn’t matter if you are into something that is popular or are stuck in some musical time warp waring out analog recordings on vinyl. i don’t expect anyone to be as nuts about this stuff as I am, though some are even more obsessive than me. However, I think because music is such a big part of our culture and history, one only needs to think of the counterculture movement of the 60’s, that it can be stimulating seeing what is going on, what has gone on, out there.
One final thought: It doesn’t matter if something is popular or not. i don’t like elitists that think something is not worthy if it finds a large audience. Some of the best music ever created is music that in its time was extremely popular. In recent years I have found that some extremely popular records, like Daft Punk’s R.A.M., were some of the best recordings out there. However, popularity in no way means something is valid. So many things die on the vine because they didn’t receive proper promotion, they were ahead of their time and people didn’t get them, or any number of reasons. Popularity neither means something is bad or good. In fact the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other, either way.